And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.
Most of us will be able to think of moments of great significance in our lives. Often you recognise them at the time, even though you don’t always know precisely how until much later. I would like to suggest that most, if not all, of these moments involve an encounter: an encounter with the other, in which suddenly something is revealed that we hadn’t recognised before.
One of these encounters I had only a few days ago, when a friend of mine and I were dropping off a couple of boxes from the Foodbank. We knocked on the door at the address we had been given, not really knowing what to expect. As often in these cases, if I am honest, part of me hopes that there is no one at home, so that we can just leave the boxes and leave, as I don’t know what to say in response to the great and obvious need with which one usually is confronted.
It was clear that the person who opened the door was desperate, looking ill, unwashed and depressed. When we asked what had caused the crisis, he mentioned that he ran out of money as he couldn’t afford any sanitary items for his daughters still living at home. Going back a couple of days later with two bags of toiletries, his response was ‘but I cannot pay for this’. After being explained he didn’t need to, he asked ‘could I give you a hug?’, and so he did.
Thinking about this encounter made me realise that despite his dire situation, this man instinctively had understood something profoundly important: that the most valuable gift we can give is ourselves. He indeed had nothing else to give, so he asked if he could give a hug: if he could give of himself.
That is the profound truth of the Christmas story: that God gave himself to be with us, to share with us. The Word became flesh and lived among us. God wanted to live among us. He didn’t need to, but he wanted to.
It sounds so easy, but it is very hard to accept that we are wanted, that we are loved, too. It actually takes a lot of courage, as it requires us to make ourselves vulnerable. Think for a moment back to the situation I just sketched. Would you, would I, dare to ask ‘can I give you a hug’, when you feel so worthless and have lost all your pride?
However, that is precisely the point. When we are forced to, or when we have found the courage, to lay down our pride, that is when we become more real. I am not saying that anyone receiving help from the Foodbank is enviable, but I do think that some people through their circumstances have understood much better than many others do what it means to be real, what it means to be a child of God.
On some scale, I would dare to say, we can all relate to this. That the moments of true significance, the moments of true grace, have been when we were most vulnerable, when we were forced to or able to lay down our pride. It is in those moments particularly that we may begin to see that also we are wanted and loved. Not needed, but wanted.
At Christmas, we celebrate that God chose to live among us, and became vulnerable like us, indeed like a baby with no home to go to. Amongst the people who understood where the shepherds, those living at the edges of society. And again, it is when we find ourselves on the edges, it is where we are more likely to see something of God, and are more likely to recognise the significance of this encounter.
We celebrate that this love, God’s love, the love we meet in the encounter with the other, is there for all of us. It doesn’t depend on who we are or what we have achieved. It doesn’t depend on how many or little mistakes we have made. It only depends on our willingness to accept that it is there for us too. It depends on our willingness to realise and recognise that the greatest gift we can give is ourselves.